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WHAT: The Denver area premiere of “Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the Dream”
WHO: Harmony: a Colorado chorale, award-winning R&B singer Hazel Miller and her band, Mark Boykins, Arvada High School Chorale. Composed/arranged by Cincinnati Men’s Chorus Artistic Director Steve Milloy.
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver; and 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at Monfort Concert Hall, 701 10th Ave., Greeley.
Bayard Rustin was a Quaker, conscientious objector, openly gay, civil rights activist and the organizer of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington and co-organizer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
An organizer of the first Freedom Rides protesting racial segregation in the south, Rustin was arrested for sitting in the whites only section of a bus 12 years before Rosa Parks made headlines.
He was sentenced to work on a chain gang.
Upon his release, Rustin’s five-part series for the New York Post titled “22 days on a chain gang” described the brutal details of his imprisonment and ultimately led to the abolition of the chain gang in North Carolina.
In 2013, President Barack Obama bestowed Rustin a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Nine out of 10 people on the street don’t know who Bayard Rustin is.
But Cincinnati Men’s Chorus Artistic Director Steve Milloy is out to change that.
Milloy composed and arranged an original choral piece, “Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the Dream," and musical groups throughout the country are starting to perform it.
“The piece discusses an unknown fact in our history of this wonderful man, Bayard Rustin,” Milloy said. “He was a peace activist, civil rights activist and an unabashedly openly gay man at a time when that was not exactly looked on as something righteous to do.”
Rustin is mostly know for organizing the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“But if it wasn’t for Bayard Rustin, there wouldn’t be Martin Luther King as we know him,” Milloy said. “It was Bayard Rustin who went and studied non-violent resistance and taught those things to King. And that’s when the civil right movement really took off.”
Milloy, who has been singing in LGBTQ choruses for 30 years, was inspired to write the Rustin piece because he was yet to come across one about an African-American.
“I was wondering: When am I going to sing something about somebody who looks like me?” said Milloy. “So I thought it was time to put something out there about a man who was not just important to the gay, LGBTQ movement, but to the civil rights movement as a whole.”
Music in the piece runs the gamut from 19th-century hymnody to ragtime, pop ballads and anthems, jazz, concertized spirituals, chain gang songs and even rap.
After hearing about the “The Man Behind the Dream,” Bill Loper, artistic director for Harmony of Colorado Chorael, thought it was perfect for his choir.
“The story of Bayard Rustin, such a powerful figure in American history who was really shunned because he was an openly gay man ... it’s a story that just needs to be told,” Loper said. “You can go down the street and ask anybody, ‘Do you know who Bayard Rustin was,’ and nine people out of 10 will say no.”
Loper has been doing that while he’s been handing out fliers promoting Harmony’s performance of Milloy’s “Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the Dream.”
Harmony is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight ally chorus that was founded in 1991. The 70-member choir pulls members from the Denver metro area and northern Colorado.
Last May Harmony performed a piece called, “Tyler’s Suite,” about a young man, Tyler Clemente, who died by suicide after being cyber-bullied. The community reaction from those performances is what led Loper to the Bayard Rustin piece.
“What ‘Tyler’s Suite’ really brought for me as artistic director was when we do things that are more mission-based, that have a purpose and that give us a reason to be, the possibilities are limitless,” Loper said. “The Bayard Rustin piece is hands down the best thing we’ve ever done. I am so proud to be a part of it. It’s reaching people, it’s telling a story and it’s informing people.
“And its going to be very entertaining.”
The Harmony Chorale will be joined by Arvada resident and award-winning R&B singer Hazel Miller and her band. Miller will act as a narrator and a soloist in the Colorado performances.
“The music in this is moving, it’s inspirational,” Miller said. “The information given is priceless and I’m very proud to be part of this.”
Miller loves the music so much that she has decided to learn all the music and sing alto with the choir throughout the whole performance.
Mark Boykins, currently the Director of Music at the Peoples Presbyterian Church, will join Miller as a storyteller.
The performance will be rounded out by 55 young voices from the Arvada High School Chorale. This makes the age-range of voices span 70 years.
“I’m flattered and thrilled that he invited us” said John Miller, choir director and teacher at Arvada High School. “Educationally, there’s layers and layers of things they’re going to get from this. To see a program like this with a living composer that can come in and meet with them ... that almost never happens. It’s very inspiring.”
The dynamics that Steve Milloy brings to rehearsal are something that Arvada High senior Haley Stimack appreciates.
“I feel a lot of the message when Mr. Milloy is conducted us,” Stimack said. “You can feel how passionate he is about it.”
Milloy said not only is his piece musical and informative, but it’s a message that is needed in society right now.
“This piece is really about nonviolent resistance in a time when we really truly need it,” Milloy said. “People need to stand up and be counted and we also need to come together and to talk. I’m hoping that this piece along with many other things starts spurring that conversation about understanding and a peaceful resolve.”
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